The problem with Fifty Shades of Grey is that there are only fifty of them. EL James solved this by writing two more bestsellers. The solution from a tiny publishing house in West Yorkshire was to write the prequel, The Secret Life of Christian Grey.
When the publishing news bible The Bookseller got wind of this plan, publishers from around the world began ringing Bluemoose Books. There was one small catch though: they all wanted to see the first three chapters, but Bluemoose Books had only concocted the synopsis.
Under the S&M pseudonym of Dominic Cutmore, Benjamin Myers, a journalist and literary novelist, had to cough up 15,000 words over one weekend. The publishers and film companies continued salivating. They could smell the money.
The book was going to be Cutmore’s memoir of his friendship with Christian Grey, the male lead of EL James’ bestseller, from childhood up to the world of Fifty Shades.
“The words came easy. With character so shallow and archetypal as EL James’s they were fairly simple narrative voices to adopt,” Myers explained. “Where Christian Grey is dominant, successful, confident and so forth, I wrote Dominic as an opposite character: repressed, unambitious, submissive.
“The plot followed the pair’s formative years: school, university, business success, sexual conquests. The rest was just creating situations that Fifty Shades fans would want to read about and which stayed true to EL James’s tenuous plots: parties, international travel, nice restaurants, sex scenes.”
But it all fell apart when Random House realised what was going on and sent their corporate lawyers after Bluemoose Books. Myers wasn’t too upset. He doesn’t boast about his parody either: “A monkey with a typewriter, some coffee and a stack of Jackie Collins novels could construct a passable Fifty Shades pastiche in a fortnight. Just go into a bookshop and count all the other cheap erotica novels that have been rush-released these past few months.” Lovers of the series can pick up a copy of Haven of Obedience or Bared to You or Eighty Days Yellow to satisfy their appetites.
In fact, as a literary novelist, Myers found his “mischievous prank on a fickle industry” depressing. Over the summer his most recent novel was published, and while doing signings in Waterstones stores he spent a lot of time wondering why Fifty Shades, “ham-fisted” as it is, has done so well: he “watched this book furtively selling a few copies every single minute. Most of the buyers seemed to be aged 25-40, white, female. They didn’t buy any other books while they were there.” Not an encouraging sign for the literary world.
Myers concluded that his own The Secret Life of Christian Grey looked so likely to succeed, if only briefly, “because it satisfied a fleeting appetite, adhered to a passing trend for clunky soft porn writing. It is hard not to feel that the publishing business is as trend-driven as Top 40 pop music.” It remains to be seen where the next trend will take us.